'I’ve loved my time with the Lions... I haven't got any long-term plans'

Warren Gatland is uncertain whether he will be involved again in four years’ time.

Lions boss Warren Gatland.
Lions boss Warren Gatland.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

WARREN GATLAND HAS expressed pride in his Lions players after defeat to the Springboks in their deciding third Test but the head coach indicated that he is uncertain whether or not he will be involved in the next tour.

Gatland has been part of the last four Lions tours, serving as head coach on the three most recent trips.

He was left disappointed after this evening’s dramatic 19-16 loss to the Boks in Cape Town, as he had to watch 2009 series winner Morné Steyn slot the game-clinching penalty again 12 years on.

Gatland will now return to his job as head coach of the Chiefs in his native New Zealand and said he doesn’t know if he will be involved on the next Lions tour of Australia in 2025. He was in charge for the Lions’ series success over the Wallabies back in 2013, while he led the tourists to a series draw against the All Blacks in 2017.

“There’s a lot of water under the bridge in four years,” said Gatland. “A lot of things can happen in that time. I’ve loved my time with the Lions.

“It’s something that I’ll reflect on. I’m incredibly proud of my involvement and I’ve been very, very fortunate.

“I’m very passionate about the Lions. I fly back to New Zealand tomorrow and start thinking about my role with the Chiefs. A long flight and then 14 days isolation in a hotel – that’s the least of what I’m looking forward to doing.

“And I think that time on my own will be a good chance to think what the next chapter of my life is going to be. I’m not someone who plans too far ahead, I’m a great believer in what will be will be.

conor-murray-dejected-after-the-game A dejected Conor Murray. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Other things will be on the horizon in the future and other opportunities. What they will be, I’m not sure. I haven’t got any long-term plans, so it’s just a bit of wait-and-see.

“The thing about Lions tours is that they’re so intensive, not just for the players but for the staff and everything.

“Everyone needs a little bit of a break to refresh and to clear the minds and start thinking about what happens next.”

This Lions tour of South Africa came in very difficult circumstances with the country fighting the third wave of Covid-19, as well as dealing with looting and rioting.

There were no fans allowed into stadiums for the Lions games and they had to stay in a strict bubble with little interaction with the outside world.

There have been consistent grumbles about the style of rugby in recent weeks, while there has been constant debate and discussion around the match officials too. For many, this has been a bad Lions tour but Gatland insisted that it remains a special part of rugby.

“If you talk to anyone, the players that are involved, either the Lions players or anyone from the Southern Hemisphere, there’s two events in the calendar that happen every four years: the Lions and the World Cup,” said Gatland

“Those are the two things that players want to be a part of, whether you’re selected for the Lions or for the Southern Hemisphere players.

“It holds a lot of players back in the Southern Hemisphere who may be looking at other opportunities, going overseas, they might re-sign for their national teams for a year or two to be a part of playing against the Lions.

liam-williams-dejected-after-the-game Liam Williams at the final whistle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Normal tours generate a huge amount of financial reward to the Southern Hemisphere teams, but it’s special and it’s unique.

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“It’s something we need to preserve on the calendar, a very important part of the cycle.

“We know the Rugby Championship, the Six Nations and they’re yearly – these things are bi-annual on a four-yearly cycle is extraordinary and incredibly unique and special.”

As for this evening’s defeat, Gatland and the Lions were left with plenty of regrets as they lost out in a tight battle. He described a feeling of “deja vu” at watching Steyn kicking the winner again.

“I’m disappointed obviously but I’m really proud of the effort the boys put in today,” said Gatland. “We went out there to be positive and play some rugby.

“We missed one or two chances and they kinda get a lucky bounce and score a try against the run of play, and a couple of 50/50 calls probably didn’t go our way.

“But it was a proper Test match, it was tough and physical and that’s what you want with a Lions series. It’s not going to be easy travelling away from home to play the world champions and they were really tight contests. We’re disappointed but it could have gone any way. Congratulations to South Africa.

“The penalty count was against us 15-12 and at this level, it’s so, so important. Your aim is to keep your penalties under 10 in international rugby and if you can do that, it makes a significant difference. 

“We had a penalty our way and then the high shot from Finn Russell goes the other way, sort of big moments. A 2-on-1 with Liam Williams and Josh Adams, he should have given the pass probably. You get one or two chances at this level and you’ve got to make the most of them because you’ve got to be clinical when they come around.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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